Summer of 2014 declared a success in Bethany Beach

Bethany Beach officials on Oct. 17 reported the summer of 2014 as a “very successful, very busy summer.”

Town Manager Cliff Graviet offered praise for new events director and media coordinator Julie Malewski and her work on the slate of entertainment options offered by the Town.

“I can’t say enough about the good work she’s done,” Graviet said, noting “record audiences” for bandstand performances and that the Town’s Monday-night movie offerings on the beach continued to be a “popular venue,” while the beach bonfires on Thursdays “continue to grow a very significant crowd.”

Also referencing the “very nice weather we had,” Graviet said the entertainment offerings had “really brought people out in droves.”

Many of those people used the town trolley to get to the downtown area, Graviet noted, with 2013’s figure of 37,000 trolley riders being well topped by the roughly 40,000 people who used the trolley this year.

Graviet also pointed out that the trolley’s impact on the limited parking in the downtown area is often ignored.

“Those are 40,000 people who didn’t come downtown to park,” he said.

With that in mind, Graviet said he wanted to look at the idea of creating an express route for the trolley that would make it “accessible to the largest number of people” and run “far more frequently than we do the long loop, which can take an awfully long time for people who just want to come down to the beach.”

Graviet said he would be consulting with town staff to create a plan that would allow the longer loop to continue to exist but still function within existing resources, while also creating more of an express route.

While the trolley has lightened the parking load on the downtown area to some degree, Graviet emphasized that parking revenues contribute strongly to offset the costs the Town sees each summer. Though parking revenue had fallen off in 2013, he said, parking revenue for 2014 had reached $1.55 million.

“That’s a significant contribution to what we use here to offset summer expenses,” he said, noting that, when he first arrived in Bethany Beach as police chief more than 20 years prior, when the police department was responsible for parking issues, the Town’s parking revenue had been just $97,000.

Currently, parking on Garfield Parkway is slightly more limited than usual, as the final phase of the Town’s Streetscape project is now under way. Roads around the beach-end “loop” have been blocked off for the work, and Graviet said signage would be placed on the roadways to indicate to passersby that the downtown businesses are still open, despite the construction work.

He emphasized that individual businesses will only be impacted briefly, when work is being done right outside those individual stores.

The council on Oct. 17 also unanimously approved $60,000 to be added to the supplemental capital budget for the 2015 fiscal year, to cover costs of completing the final phase of its Streetscape project, which has included the repaving of Garfield Parkway from Route 1 to the boardwalk, as well as reconfiguring of parking and efforts to open up and beautify the sidewalk areas.

The bulk of the project was completed before the summer season began and was available to visitors starting in June, while the “loop” section was delayed to avoid impacting visitors during the season.

Even those who aren’t going to be in downtown Bethany at some point in the future should still be able to get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on in town, as Graviet announced last Friday that the Town had recently invested in a “mobile aerial camera,” or “MAC,” to be used to capture live photos that could be put on the Town’s website, including images of the town during and after storms, which would also be shared with state and federal legislators.

While Graviet notably did not refer to the device as a “drone,” he emphasized that the MAC will be operated by town staffer John Apple, who will be getting certified in its operation, and Malewski will be charged with oversight of the project.

Town purchases ‘mobile office,’ two police vehicles

And in another nod to the potential for storm damage in the town, Graviet also announced that the Town had recently purchased, for $10,000, a used “mobile office” from the Town of Smyrna. He said that town had itself originally purchased the vehicle for use as a mobile command post for its police department, at a cost of $90,000.

Graviet said Smyrna employees had driven the vehicle only 100 to 200 miles and, having kept it stored inside much of the rest of the time, had been looking to “make it available to another municipality.”

He said that, looking at significant storm events that have happened up and down the East Coast, including Hurricane Sandy, he recognized that in some cases municipalities had lost their town halls and were not able to establish any sort of presence in their towns after a storm, some of them forced to work out of police cars.

With the mobile office outfitted as an office — and not as a mobile command center, he emphasized, with a nod to emergency command facilities inside the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall — he said it might not only prove useful for events such as triathlons but, “more importantly, be available to use in the event of any significant weather event,” in which case it could be used by the Town to “help people deal with the bureaucracy” that can come into play after such events.

He said the vehicle would continue to be kept inside when not in use.

Police cars themselves aren’t immune to the elements, though, as the Town found out this spring when a brand new four-wheel-drive Chevy Tahoe police vehicle caught fire and was totaled.

Graviet told the council on Oct. 17 that that circumstance had led to his unusual request to purchase not one but two new police pursuit vehicles this month, to replace both the vehicle that was destroyed and an existing vehicle with 90,000 miles on the odometer that has been racking up costs over mechanical issues.

The Town’s insurance company had paid out $55,000 to replace the burned vehicle and equip its four-wheel-drive replacement, he told the council, while the Town’s generally annual $25,000 police grant from Sussex County would be going toward replacing the older two-wheel-drive vehicle.

He noted both that the Chevy Tahoe has now been certified as a police pursuit vehicle and that the cost to equip a police car now almost equals the purchase price of the vehicle itself.

The council unanimously approved (with Councilman Jerry Dorfman absent) the purchase of both base vehicles, for $31,000 and $27,000, respectively. They will be fitted with police equipment before going out on the streets of Bethany Beach.

Also on Oct. 17:

• The council unanimously approved updated committee guidelines as part of their annual process of making new appointments to committees. Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer noted that changes to the guidelines for the Non-Residential Design Review Committee (DRC) would be forthcoming, as part of changes resulting from the creation of the CL-1 commercial lodging district.

• Appointments for committee chairpersons were also approved last Friday, with Dorfman remaining as head of the Budget & Finance Committee, Killmer for the DRC, Councilman Chuck Peterson for the Charter & Ordinance Review Committee and former councilwoman Carol Olmstead for the Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee. Patrick Shepley will chair the Audit Committee, while newly installed Councilman Bruce Frye will head the Town’s Fourth of July Parade Committee.

• Frye will no longer be serving on the Board of Adjustments, due to his new place on the council. Mayor Jack Gordon appointed Doug Mowry to complete his term, ending in 2016, while current member Len Kidwell will get a new term, ending in 2017.

• The DRC will also see some change in this council year, as member Faith Denault will be replaced by Jerry Morris for the remainder of her term (ending in 2015). Killmer said she no longer owns property in the town. “She had to come off,” he explained, “and she will be missed.”

• The October financial report for the Town (through the end of September) revealed that it had already taken in 90.8 percent of the revenue it had budgeted for the 2015 fiscal year, despite only having seen roughly half the fiscal year go by.

Committee members noted that there had been transfer tax, building-fee and water impact fee revenues taken in that were “well above normal” due to the start of construction on the new downtown hotel. Last year at this point, the Town had taken in 79.2 percent of its budgeted revenue. Expenses are on track with historical numbers, however, at 58.4 percent of the budgeted amount, compared to 55 percent at the same time last year.

• Gordon delivered to Olmstead and CHAC a book on D-Day that had been gifted to him after a local woman visited the town’s sister city of Periers, France, recently. He also presented a poster created by veterans participating in Operation SEAs the Day who had wanted to thank the town for its participation.

• Councilman Joe Healy and Frye reported on their attendance at the annual American Shoreline & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) conference last week in Virginia Beach, noting presentations by DNREC’s Tony Pratt on cost-benefit analysis of beach replenishment and on issues concerning private funding of such projects, and that a comprehensive report on the impact of Hurricane Sandy is expected to be available in January.

Healy also reported that a committee advising the State on beach issues has planned an Oct. 31 workshop with DNREC in Slaughter Beach, from 2 to 4 p.m., with a follow-up workshop on Nov. 1 at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center from 10 a.m. to noon.

Frye, who was elected to the council last month, said of the conference, “I came away with the really good feeling that what we are doing with the beach, with our big dune and wide beach, is the right thing.”

• In response to a question about flood regulations and the new FEMA flood maps, Killmer noted that he has been working on the FEMA- required ordinance changes, using both existing town code and the “boilerplate” version offered to municipalities by the State of Delaware.

Emphasizing that he was endeavoring to make the resulting document specific to the town (eliminating sections on mobile homes, for instance, as they are prohibited in town limits), Killmer said he expected to have the draft completed in the next week or so, with a review from state officials requested “before we even bring it up for a vote.”

• Peterson reported that CORC would present the council with a “white paper” after their next meeting, dealing with a possible ordinance regarding objects that interfere with lifeguards’ view of the beach and water. He said other papers coming to the council in the future would deal with whether the council may want to take action on issues related to parking and residential lighting, the latter in regards to its ability to disturb neighbors.

• Olmstead reported that CHAC has planned three cultural events through spring, returning to a practice that had skipped a couple of years. She said the committee plans to bring in Civil War expert Tom Ryan in November, to discuss “Women Spies During the Civil War,” with a presentation on indigenous plantings expected in March or April, and a showing of the committee’s completed 90-minute oral history project, “Bethany Beach Memoir,” also to be scheduled.

She said the committee had decided to recommend that the Town not purchase copies of the “Walk Through History” book produced by the Bethany Beach Landowners’ Association, for re-sale at town hall, partly due to the cost ($5 each) — when the book has been widely distributed to many in the area free of charge by Realtors and local banks — and partly due to the fact that it would place the Town in competition with local retailers.

Olmstead said the committee was also continuing to contact owners of homes built in the town before 1940, to assess their interest in having historical markers placed at the properties.

• Killmer reported that the Planning Commission had approved in September the partitioning of a large lot on 2nd Street into two 5,000-square-foot lots, with the house that had been on the joined lots now removed.

• Finally, the council voted to change the date of its November meeting from Nov. 21 to Nov. 14, also at 2 p.m., due to a conflict in the mayor’s schedule.